Among the many creatures associated with summer is one many people don’t like to see, but it’s a good thing we have them – spiders.
When most people think of spiders, they think of spider bites. Spider bites shouldn’t be downplayed because they do happen and when they come from brown recluses or black widows, they can be problematic.
However, when you think about the number of spiders around us, you’d have to say the chances of receiving a severely harmful spider bite are relatively slim.
Consider this: Missouri is home to somewhere around 480 species of spiders. It’s estimated approximately 11,000 spiders can be found in a typical acre of Missouri forest habitat. If that number staggers you, you better sit down for this one: It’s estimated more than two million spiders are in a typical acre of Missouri grassland habitat.
Those numbers may be startling if you don’t like spiders, but before you reach for insecticide and a rolled-up newspaper, think about this: Many spiders often consume at least one insect per day. The cumulative effect of this predation has a huge impact on controlling populations of insect pests.
Think about the bug problems we would have if there weren’t millions of spiders out there eating insects.
As mentioned above, two of these arachnids we do need to avoid are the brown recluse and black widow. Brown recluses can often be found in homes, particularly in closets, basements, storage sheds and other places where clothes and clutter accumulate.
Brown recluses are known as “violin” or “fiddle-back” spiders because of the violin-shaped marking on the top of the front portion of the their bodies (the carapace). Their overall color is grayish-yellow-brown and their bodies (minus the legs) are about nine millimeters long.
Initially, many brown recluse spider bites go unnoticed. If you have a bite that you think may have come from a brown recluse, you should see a doctor immediately.
Black widow spiders have glossy black bodies. Some have a distinctive red hour-glass marking on the underside of their abdomens; others have red spots.
The female black widow, which is 8-10 millimeters long, is the one that poses a threat to humans. The males are smaller and not considered dangerous. Black widows can be found under flat rocks, logs along embankments or, in occupied areas, in woodpiles, storage sheds or other outbuildings.
A black widow bite often results in delayed pain at the wound site. As with a brown recluse bite, medical attention should be sought immediately after being bitten by a black widow.
You can reduce your chances of being bitten by a brown recluse or black widow by taking these precautions:
• Exercise caution in areas where black widows or brown recluses can concentrate. Black widows often make tangled webs around outbuildings, storage units, old tree trunks or cabins not in regular use.
Take care to look before placing your hands in a lumber pile, window-well, under rocks or little-used cabinets and drawers.
• Keep cellars, rooms, closets as clutter-free as possible. Vacuum, dust and sort through stacks of clothes, children’s stuffed animals or other piled materials frequently. Spiders usually will not remain in a constantly disturbed area.
• Shake clothing, blankets, towels and other articles if they have remained in an area where these spiders may be found.
(Francis Skalicky works for the Missouri Department of Conservation in southwest Missouri. He can be reached at 417-895-6880.)